- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2010

The White House on Friday defended Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s move to scuttle a bipartisan jobs bill and replace it with a Democratic-written measure, arguing that Mr. Reid’s bill will end up drawing Republican support.

The Nevada Democrat’s decision to scrap bipartisan legislation — after it had drawn praise from the White House on Thursday — along with his blocking of amendments to his bill have sparked criticism from Republicans as well as moderate Democrats. Asked if President Obama approves of Mr. Reid’s actions, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs would not address the chain of events on Capitol Hill but said the Reid bill contains ideas that should appeal to members of the GOP.

“I think that the legislation that Senator Reid will move when the Senate comes back into town will garner bipartisan support,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters, citing as an example a tax credit for firms that hire unemployed workers. “I don’t think there will just be one vehicle that moves and I don’t think there is only one chance at getting bipartisanship.”

Democrats have been scrambling to show they are taking action to chip away at the nation’s high unemployment rate, which is currently at 9.7 percent. The House in December passed a $154 billion package aimed at spurring job growth, but the Senate has yet to act.

Mr. Reid’s bill would forgive Social Security payroll taxes for new hires who had been unemployed at least 60 days, fund highway and infrastructure projects and extend tax benefits to small businesses. The package drafted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, and Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the panel’s senior Republican, contained the same provisions as the Reid bill plus an extension of tax breaks for energy efficiency, research and development and other initiatives. It also included the so-called “doc fix” to temporarily increase Medicare reimbursement rates, extended unemployment benefits and provided relief to pension plans that suffered significant losses in 2008.

The term “bipartisanship” has been on the tongue of just about every politician in Washington in the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special Senate election last month, which undermined the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Though a series of bipartisan meetings have taken place since then, legislative collaboration between the two parties has been elusive.

After the Baucus-Grassley deal was announced, the White House put out a statement saying Mr. Obama was “gratified to see the Senate moving forward in a bipartisan manner.” But Mr. Reid slapped the effort down hours later, arguing that the bill had too many provisions unrelated to creating jobs.

Mr. Reid’s bill does contain at least one bipartisan provision as Sens. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, worked together on the tax credit for new hires. But Mr. Hatch on Thursday expressed anger over Mr. Reid’s move to block amendments when the legislation is brought up for a vote on Feb. 22, after the Senate returns from a weeklong recess.

Republicans were not the only ones critical of Mr. Reid’s move. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a moderate Democrat from Arkansas facing a tough race this fall, said she hopes her party’s leader will reconsider his decision.

“Most Americans don’t honestly believe that a single political party has all the good ideas,” she said in a statement Friday. “We’re not going to accomplish anything until we start governing from the center.”

Despite what unfolded this week, Mr. Gibbs said Republicans can still trust Mr. Obama when it comes to bipartisanship.

“Of course Republicans can trust the president. They were in a room not far from where we’re sitting discussing many of the elements that will be voted on at the end of February on a jobs bill,” he said, referring to a discussion of the economy that took place Tuesday at the White House with bipartisan congressional leaders.

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